Today, in Mobile, Ala., Korean War veteran Darwin Bacon returned to the high seas as one of a select group of volunteers aboard the USS LST-325 Museum Ship. It is one of only two World War II LSTs to be preserved in the U.S.
The LST-325 (landing ship, tank) is sailing to Boston, Mass. to honor World War II veterans for the 60th anniversary of the D-day invasion, which it participated in, and escort the USS Constitution during the ship's annual turn around cruise.
Bacon and his fellow volunteers aboard the LST-325 will also participate in the dedication activities for the Greatest Generation -- World War II Monument in Washington, D.C.
"I read about the cruise on the internet," Bacon said. "I applied to be one of the volunteers on the ship in January and was selected."
He said he did not know how many others applied to participate.
"It's a real honor," he said.
While aboard the LST-325, Bacon will serve as an engineer, the same post he had while on active duty during the Korean War.
The LST-325 is a historic ship, built to first serve in World War II. It was launched Oct. 27, 1942 and commissioned on Feb. 1, 1943. The ship was part of the invading force in Sicily in the summer of 1943 and Salerno, Italy in September 1943.
In the fall of 1943, the ship headed to England as part of large convoy. The convoy was attacked by German bombers and a passenger aboard the LST-325 was severely wounded by shrapnel.
The LST-325 entered the port at Plymouth, England on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1943. For the next several months the crew of the ship participated in several training exercises and then on June 5, 1944, the LST-325 sailed from Falmouth, England carrying elements of the 5th Special Engineer Brigade. The ship was part of Force "B", the back-up force for the troops going ashore at Omaha Beach on June 6. On June 7, the ship anchored off Omaha Beach and unloaded men and vehicles.
Between June 1944 and April 1945, the ship made 44 trips between England and France. During that period, the ship twice carried loads of ammunition for the Army besieging the port city of Brest; and on Dec. 28, 1944, the crew of the ship helped rescue 700 men from a troop transport that had been torpedoed off the coast of France.
In May 1945 the ship headed home and was caught in a storm and badly damaged. It was temporarily repaired and was able to complete its journey to the U.S., reaching Norfolk, Va. May 31, 1945. It was sent to New Orleans for full repairs and was scheduled to sail to the Pacific, but the day before departing, word came that Japan had surrendered and the war was over.
The ship was decommissioned on July 2, 1946, but reactivated in 1951 to help in the construction of radar outposts along the coast of eastern Canada and Greenland.
In 1961 the LST-325 was taken out of service and became part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet, only to be reactivated again in 1963 and transferred to Greece in May 1965, where it was named Syros (L-144).
The Greek Navy used the ship until December 1999, when it was decommissioned again.
"It was headed for the scrapyard," Bacon said.
However, the USS Ship Memorial, Inc., acquired the ship and brought it back across the Atlantic, arriving in its new home port, Mobile, Ala. in Jan. 2001.
The ship remains active in spite of its museum status. In 2003 it did a 78-day river cruise between early June and mid-August.
The tour departing today from Mobile, will take Bacon and the rest of the volunteers to Boston, Gloucester, Mass., the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, New Bedford, Mass., and Alexandria, Va.
In New Bedford, the volunteers and crew will participate in a ceremony honoring the soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in April 1944 in an attack by German E-boats during a training exercise in the bay Slapton Beach.
The exercise was for the assault of Utah Beach in Normandy. Early on April 28, the group of ships in the exercise were attacked by nine German E-boats out of Cherbourg, which had evaded the Allied patrols. Hundreds of American and English soldiers lost their lives.
The ship will return to Mobile, Ala. on July 10.